The Buyer’s Guide is a weekly column designed to help fantasy owners assess a player who sees an increased level of interest during a given week. This column focuses on players who generally have lower than 40 percent ownership rates across various leagues.
Since May 24, Steven Souza has been one of the most productive outfielders in baseball. He’s hit .342/.444/.789 with five home runs, 10 RBIs, and nine runs scored over that stretch. That’s the kind of production any fantasy roster would be happy to have, and this recent run of success has raised Souza’s profile in the fantasy community.
In ESPN leagues, Souza’s ownership rate jumped from 27.9 percent to 48.9 percent over the past week. Souza went from 47 percent owned to 62 percent owned in CBS leagues, and over at Yahoo his ownership rate sits at 46 percent. In most cases, you still have about a 50 percent chance of adding Souza to your roster. The question is, should you?
On the surface, there is a lot to like about Souza’s production. His .266 batting average is 26 points above his career average, and if that holds it makes him a more valuable fantasy option. Not only is Souza getting on base more thanks to his bat, but he’s also raised his walk rate to a career high 14.3 percent. This is at least one piece of evidence that suggests Souza is employing a more patient approach at the plate.
However, there are other facts that also make this point. He’s decreased his strikeout rate to 28.6 percent. This isn’t a low number, but it’s safely below his 32.7 percent career mark. Souza also has cut his swing rate on pitches outside of the zone by just over 7 percent, and he’s cut his first-strike percentage by just over 10 percent.
Detractors will be quick to point out that Souza’s average is likely inflated given his .348 BABIP, but that’s the same BABIP he accumulated over 120 games in 2016. In 2015, his .318 BABIP was still above league average. Given his track record, it’s not a sure thing that is BABIP is set to decrease dramatically.
Maybe more intriguing for fantasy owners is Souza’s increased power production. He’s already hit 10 home runs, and he’s well on his way to his first 20-homer season in the majors. It’s true that 20 home-run hitters aren’t as valuable as they used to be, but if he ends up somewhere between 25-30 with a solid average he can be a helpful addition to any owner’s roster. Michael Beller of SI recently noted that Souza’s power outburst is part of a larger trend in Tampa. The Rays currently rank as one of the best power hitting teams in baseball.
However, Souza isn’t only raising eyebrows with his home-run total. He’s on pace to set career highs in both runs and RBIs. This type of production has Souza inside of the top-50 in ESPN’s Player Rater for outfielders. He’s providing positive value in every category other than steals, and given the fact that he’s hitting fifth in Tampa’s lineup, he should have plenty of opportunities to continue to rack up stats in these categories.
While Souza’s overall 2017 numbers are enticing, there are mixed signals when it comes to his trajectory for the rest of the season. In March and April, Souza hit .330 while he hit only .216 in May. Thankfully for Souza owners, he hit more home runs in the month of May than he did in the first month—but home runs without a solid average are of limited value in the current fantasy climate.
There were additional concerning trends for Souza in the season’s first two months. His strikeout rate increased from 25.9 percent to 30.6 percent. It’s only June 4, the smallest of sample sizes, but he’s striking out 37.5 percent of the time this month. Strikeouts have long been an issue for Souza, and it’s getting harder to make the case that he’s made a definitive step forward in this area.
As I mentioned above, Souza hit more home runs in May than he did in April, but it was surprising he could accomplish this. It required an uncharacteristic 30 percent HR/FB rate. This was even more surprising given that his ground-ball rate shot up 8 points from April to May. Again, it’s June 4, but that number has climbed even higher this month. It’s going to be difficult to continue his current rate of home runs if he continues to put the ball on the ground like this.
Yes, Souza has been incredibly productive as of late. However, he’s done so with an increasing strikeout and ground-ball rate. Those mixed signals make it difficult to determine Souza’s fantasy value moving forward. In a recent article, Scott White of CBS Sports noted that Souza is currently in the top top-10 for line-drive rate. It’s possible that he’s hitting the ball hard enough that the fluctuations in batted-ball profile won’t matter as much.
Buyers Guide: Sell
What should you do with Steven Souza? Part of me simply wants to leave a shrug emoji in this section because the evidence is mixed. If you’re a current Souza owner, it’s likely you’re going to ride out the current hot streak, but to be fair he’s only registered one hit since Friday.
If you’re in need of an outfielder, Souza is an enticing possibility. Yet, the concerning trends in his profile make him a risky proposition. If you’re a current Souza owner this is a great time to see if you can get anything for him on the trade market. This is one of the trickier cases we’ve considered in the Buyer’s Guide this season, but the trends in Souza’s batted-ball profile make it difficult for me to recommend him moving forward.
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